A Story About My Uncle is a PC platformer developed by Gone North Games.
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In ASAMU the player must leap and swing through a series of areas, guided by the voice of a father who narrates the tale to his daughter in the form of a bedtime story. The fantastic adventure he describes quickly unfolds into a solid platforming game where the player must travel from checkpoint to checkpoint in order to further the plot.
While traversing the obstacles laid in front of you, the dialogue is surprisingly sparse for a game called ‘A Story About My Uncle’. There is no conversation between the Father and his daughter outside of the few scripted story events and a handful of optional story objects that can be found to activate new pieces of dialogue. The game took over two years to develop, and it is disappointing that, given the game’s title, Gone North Games did not dedicate more of this time to creating the feeling of a bedtime story.
As a whole, the story of ASAMU is a nice idea, but it feels like beta material and could have done with more back and forth between the characters. In long platforming sections, or difficult areas where the player could fall several times before succeeding, it would have felt like less of a lonely experience had there been more dialogue.
When the player chooses to quit the game, the daughter begs the father to continue telling the story, and more simple pieces of conversation like this would have given the player a more active role in the story. For example, if the daughter made jokes about the father being unable to remember what comes next when the player falls off a platform multiple times, the experience could become amusing rather than repetitive.
A Story About My Uncle is an attractive game. Set pieces are used to great effect, showing the player the majority of each stage at once, so they can see distant lights and floating platforms. The best example of this is the fourth stage, a cloud-top area, where it’s bright enough for the draw-distance to be as far as your computer can process.
When looking at scenery closer up, it doesn’t look quite as pretty. The individual textures do their job, but they’re not awe-inspiring. The player tends to spring through areas quickly, so this doesn’t become a problem unless they slow to a stop, such as during scenes that restrict movement and cannot be skipped.
This could be forgiveable, had the character models not looked so dated (along the lines of decade old games like Psychonauts). When action is halted, the player has little to do but look at the bland characters and textures surrounding them, while having their movement speed reduced and platforming abilities removed. The player’s hands look impressive, but to rub salt in the wound, these are also concealed during dialogue sections – possibly to hide the juxtaposition between the well-designed and poorly-designed character models.
Outside of dialogue, the game’s visuals do their job. There is a good combination of area styles, including a town, cloud-tops and an ice cavern, but four out of the game’s five levels are just variations on the same template. The main method of transport around these areas, the grappling hook, even has several customization options, including changing its colour, which keeps the game fresh when the dialogue has stopped and the scenery hasn’t changed in a while.
The music in each level is gentle and plays more of a background role, adding to the ambience and only making itself noticed when the atmosphere needs to change suddenly. Due to this, at times the music can become louder, and sound effects are used to strong effect, such as the heavy thud when landing after a jump or the music halting as a monster snarls. It gives the platforming mechanics a meatier feeling, and adds tension only where necessary.
A Story About My Uncle is a pure platforming game. There are no puzzles or fights, only the need to jump around areas of varying difficulty and awkwardness. To aid the player in travelling through the game, they are given an adventure suit with an inbuilt grappling hook. As with games like Portal, this gives the player an excuse for falling from great heights and taking no damage, while setting limits on where they can travel. Bottomless pits are a no-no, and landing in deep water will take you back to your last checkpoint; it’s standard stuff.
The player can use the suit while on the ground to charge their standard jumps into high jumps, and can use this charge while running to perform long jumps. In many sections, it is possible to rely on these standard methods of movement and avoid using the grappling hook. As the game continues, areas are split into two kinds of sections: areas that must be crossed by a specific method that must be mastered, and areas that the player can find their own method of jumping through. For the latter, suit upgrades act as fail-safes, where a poorly calculated jump can be corrected by grappling onto higher platforms.
What ASAMU does best with its platforming is avoiding common pitfalls of the genre; the camera never poses a problem and movement is rarely clumsy. Whenever I failed a jump, I didn’t blame the game; I blamed myself. The well defined abilities and level construction made for a platforming experience that was both challenging and satisfying, making the most of its simple mechanics and level design.
The levels were mostly linear, but this kept the route ahead clear enough to follow without the player having to stop and gather their bearings. The game’s use of light and dark was especially useful in guiding the player toward their destination and away from the poorly clipped rocks they were not supposed to land on.
In more complex areas, the checkpoints could be used as arrow markers, as they always pointed the direction of the next jump. However, in the simple areas, where the path to take was obvious, checkpoints were in short supply. There were many long linear sections that spiked in difficulty and punished the player by sending them back to the beginning if they could not complete it in one attempt. Other than these sections, the learning curve was smooth; after completion, early levels could be revisited and soared through easily, despite them being challenging on the first run.
There were several points in the platforming that felt frustrating, but this was mainly due to the constraint of all platforming games not on a 3D display. At times, it could be difficult to judge the distance between a character and platforms, resulting in falling short, jumping too far or attempting to grapple an enormous boulder in the background that looked like a smaller rock up close.
My main complaint with A Story About My Uncle was the overwhelming sense of loneliness I felt while playing it. The prologue scene ‘Workshop’ set the game up well as a bedtime story, piquing my interest in how the plot would unfold. However, once the game begins, there is very little interaction between the player and the world, either inside or outside of the story.
There are a handful of objects that begin short pieces of narrative, but other than these, the player can only walk, run and jump through the world without engaging with any of the characters or objects. There are towns, but there is very little to do within them; objects serve only a decorative purpose and there are no interactions with characters outside of short scripted sections that are compulsory for the story. Once these spoken sections have finished, NPCs feel like awkward ornaments that do nothing more than activate a babbling sound effect when the player is a short distance from them.
The number of collectibles and unlockables in A Story About My Uncle is in good proportion with the length of the game, each level hiding five collectibles within their expanse. Some are easily found, either on the main path, or close enough for their tell-tale beeping to signal the player to begin a search, while others are hidden away where they could only be found if the player dedicated time to stray from the set path. Special modes can be unlocked for every 5 collectibles after the first 10 (there’s a total of 25), though I found only the first unlockable was worthwhile; the later unlockables were fun for a short while, but detracted from playing the game.
There are achievements, of course. A couple of these were interesting challenges, like completing a specific platforming section without touching the ground, but most are given for playing full levels without falling, or by minimising grappling hook use. There are also achievements for completing missions in Time Trial mode. If the player can complete each level under a designated time, they will be granted an achievement, but the game offers only one time to beat for each course. If there had been bronze and silver times, rather than only times for achievements, the Time Trial mode would have felt less impenetrable.
The most interesting extra feature, though still the most elusive to me, is the secret ‘Language’ that the characters in the story world write in. It’s a code, where each letter of the alphabet is replaced by a symbol. Your friend that accompanies you through the earlier levels will translate a few lines to you, but it is your job to create a key from this to later translate any words you may find (I wanted to; I didn’t).
A Story About My Uncle is a nice game to play. Once you’re used to the mechanics, it can feel quite therapeutic to soar through the sky. It can be finicky in places, but only in one or two stretches per level. There were some intuitive sections that changed the pace of the game, but these quickly grew tedious if they weren’t completed on the first attempt, due to being bookended by checkpoints, rather than having checkpoints throughout for moments of respite.
The urge to complete the increasingly challenging areas, despite the small volume of dialogue, is finally met with a disappointing ending and very little reward for a lot of effort. The journey is a fun, albeit lonely one, but don’t expect to be blown away by the story and don’t get your hopes up for a cathartic finish.
There’s some replay value, especially to go back and hunt down collectibles, but the inability to skip compulsory story scenes make subsequent playthroughs just as slow as the initial run. The Time Trials were a fun way to drain an evening away, but incremental awards (bronze, silver) would have made it feel more worthy of multiple attempts.
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ASAMU should take around 4 hours to complete the first playthrough, and you’ll likely find 50% of the collectables without much effort. Searching for all of the collectibles would add another hour or so, and how long the Time Trials take is entirely down to your skill. Let’s say around 7 hours for 100% completion, if you’re good.